The “Reader-izing” of San Diego CityBeat

by on April 24, 2015 · 3 comments

in Culture, History, Media, Politics, San Diego

City Beat coverWhile I’m guessing some coverage of interest to progressives will continue to appear, the heart and soul of the organization appear to be headed in another direction.

.By Doug Porter

There’s trouble afoot at San Diego CityBeat, the alt-weekly known for its focus on local progressive politics, arts, and music.

Editor Dave Rolland and associate editor Kelly Davis both cited plausible professional reasons as they exited the publication in March, with Rolland promising readers “our departure does not foretell CityBeat’s demise.”

Incoming editor Ron Donoho started off vowing to “continue this alt-weekly tradition,” and pledging to “stink up the place if our local leaders foul things up.” Unfortunately these promises were woven into a bizarre scatological analogy, ending with “if we see brown, we’ll flush it down.”

This week’s “From the Editor” messaging takes on the pressing issue of promposals, which we learn are the latest silliness from high schoolers looking for creative ways to score dates for the end-of-year dance ritual. It’s a real first world problem, folks, one Donoho wants us to consider as “latest sign that the apocalypse is upon us.”

Here’s the editorial’s conclusion:

prom puppyAbolishing the promposal is not something we can legislate. In a way, perhaps this surge is a sign that the economy is getting stronger. Great. But if 18-year-olds have access to more disposable income, let’s encourage them to save money for college, or teach them how to manage the minimum-wage income from their part-time jobs.

Here’s an idea for a tutorial: Will Ferrell creates a skit that lampoons and shames the act of promposing. He spends a million dollars to rent a plane to skywrite a message, but the plane crashes into the gal he’s asking to prom.

Ferrell is arrested for involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to hard time in jail. That’d go viral.

While I realize that all politics and no culture makes for a boring publication, the drama going on behind the scenes at CityBeat seems indicative of a broader agenda. While I’m guessing some coverage of interest to progressives will continue to appear, the heart and soul of the organization appear to be headed in another direction.

FYI-From the Wikipedia page on the new editor:

Donoho is the recipient of over 40 awards from the San Diego Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. Donoho previously contributed to Donoho is the co-author of the book The Coronado Company: The True Story of Surfers, Smugglers, and Marijuana. The Cornado Company is the subject of a film, Coronado High, directed by George Clooney. In 2013, Donoho was one of ten national finalists in a Ron Burgundy look-alike contest.

Davis Gets Dumped

The first clue I had came via Facebook, as Kelly Davis, who’d stayed on to help through the transition, let the world know she’d been unceremoniously dumped.

Hey everyone: For the last few weeks, I’ve been proofreading CityBeat and continuing to write my cocktail column. I’ve also picked up some of Kinsee Morlan‘s tasks while she’s on maternity leave.

Well, I was just informed by CityBeat’s new editor, Ron Donoho, that my services will no longer be needed. I will no longer be writing my cocktail column, or the shopping column. No news stories. Nada….

…yesterday I told the company that they’re violating state law by not paying employees who leave Southland Publishing their full unused vacation pay. This comes after they forced me to be an independent contractor simply because I filled out the wrong paperwork. They also accused me of having a long history of taking vacations and not reporting the time off, which simply isn’t true.

This is a paper that David Rolland and I—and many, many others—worked for 13 years to build. The new editor has come in and made a number of changes that cause me to question whether the solid wall Dave built between advertising and editorial is being slowly chipped away; I know it’s being chipped away. And the editorial page that used to make me so proud has now become a joke (read tomorrow’s editor’s note and you’ll see what I mean).

While this superficially might seem like a combination of new management and a disgruntled former employee, the back story suggests otherwise.

In 2013 and 2014 a breast cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy and multiple rounds of chemotherapy slowed associate editor Kelly Davis down a little, but she continued her duties as associate editor. Perhaps that’s where the accusations of not reporting time off came from, even if it’s not true.

Here’s a couple of snips from Dave Rolland’s farewell to her:

In my admittedly biased opinion, Kelly became San Diego’s best and most prolific journalistic authority on homelessness, bringing her trademark compassion to the topic and, I believe, helping persuade politicians and influential business and philanthropic groups to move homelessness from an unpleasant political problem that got swept under the rug to almost a chic issue that became an important plank in political platforms (see Kevin Faulconer’s own trajectory on the issue)…

…It was inevitable that Kelly would outgrow CityBeat. I think that happened awhile back, but she cares so deeply about the paper and wants so badly for it to flourish that, until now, she’d been unable to walk away. For some time, I’ve been gently trying to nudge her out of the nest, at the same time fearing the day when she’d finally fly. I worried because it’s been 13 years and five months since I’ve had to put out a weekly paper without her…

Davis is a certainly not some flake. Her venture into freelancing raised nearly four times the goal of her IndieGoGo crowd-funding pitch to continue her impressive body of work on the criminal justice system in San Diego. In recent weeks her freelance efforts have borne fruit with bylines in Voice of San Diego and UT-San Diego.

Dave Rolland has gone on to Sacramento, where he’s working for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ staff. (If you have doubts about whether Atkins harbors further ambitions after she’s termed out in 2016, consider Rolland’s move northward as a strong counter-argument.)

Way back in the hippie ages I was an editor with the San Diego Door, an underground newspaper with a muckraking bent. Times changed and the Door went away, its place taken by San Diego Reader. (With a little help from some of the people in power we’d pissed off along the way)

The Reader still exists today, and while there are some contributors to the publication who strive mightily to provide some context to their reporting, there can be little doubt of its role as a “safe” vehicle. The right wing Catholic politics of its owner allow it to be used as a vehicle for funding anti-women’s rights causes.

I don’t think I’ve ever met Kelly Davis, although I did get a rejection letter from her on my only attempt at a submission to CityBeat. (She was right.)

None-the-less I take all this personally, as one who guided a progressive paper and saw it replaced with fluff, and as a cancer survivor who fought through the horrors of treatment by staying focused on the words I could type after the disease took away my vocal chords.

CityBeat under Dave Rolland and Kelly Davis was far from perfect, but it was a damn sight better than anything else in print these days. Given that print as a medium is a doubtful journalistic path to take for the future, it’s entirely possible we’ve just witnessed the end of an era.


This was an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press, our online media partner.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Geeta April 24, 2015 at 3:12 pm

What a terrible shame if the City Beat turns into junk. I hope Kelly Davis finds some other outlets in San Diego, because she is a terrific reporter.


tia April 24, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Thanks so much for this story, Doug. Glad I’m not the only one noticing (& being disappointed by) the major shift in City Beat. Did not know any of the info you included on Kelly. What a pisser as she is an extremely talented woman! I wish her well.


Debbie April 24, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for this info….tells alot!


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